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Faculty split over planned China campus

As administrators release more details about Duke’s China campus, some faculty members have expressed concern that they have not been consulted about the project.

Several professors said they feel they have been deliberately left out of the planning process for Duke Kunshan University to prevent criticism of the project. Those professors have begun to voice their concerns, however, drawing scrutiny to DKU as Duke prepares to submit its proposal for the academic institution to the Chinese Ministry of Education in early May.

Academic Council Chair Craig Henriquez said faculty interest is increasing with awareness of details about DKU, but he added that he thinks the concerns stem from a general distrust of decisions made without faculty input. Some professors have also questioned the cost of DKU, particularly in light of budget cuts to programs in Durham.

“What we’re beginning to see is more faculty at large weighing in on Duke in China as the pieces start to come together,” said Henriquez, a professor of biomedical engineering.

‘Second guessing’ Duke

Henriquez said a letter to The Chronicle that was highly critical of Duke’s China plans caused a stir among faculty and led to more discussion of DKU.

In the letter, Thomas Pfau, professor of German and Eads Family professor of English, compared Duke’s global ventures to those of a “multinational corporation peddling an increasingly amorphous and empty commodity.” Additionally, he accused the administration of neglecting academic programs in Durham and actively avoiding faculty input.

Pfau said he has heard from many other faculty members who share his concerns that the administration is excluding them from major discussions about DKU. He acknowledged that administrators have discussed some of the project’s plans with the Academic Council’s executive committee. But he said too few faculty members—particularly those from Arts and Sciences who have expertise in Chinese culture and politics—have been present in these discussions.

“Whoever is not on board tends to be systematically cut out,” he said.

Herbert Kitschelt, professor of political science, said he has not been given enough information to form an opinion on DKU.

Kitschelt, who is not a member of the Academic Council, said he would like to see more people “second guessing” the administration. But because some Trinity professors do not see tangible benefits in involving themselves in discussions about DKU, they may avoid them, he said

“Watchdogs would be good for everyone,” Kitschelt said. “But will everyone incur the cost? [They will] spend hours and hours debating—that’s essentially time taken away from our core competence and core duties [of research and teaching].”

‘Faculty champions’

Henriquez said it is important for faculty to step forward and learn more about plans for DKU. He hopes there will soon be “faculty champions” of DKU who are well informed and enthusiastic about the venture.

“You want someone who can tell you that this is the most exciting thing Duke is doing for x, y and z reasons,” Henriquez said. “There’s always a tendency for faculty to buy into what faculty say, not the administration.”

In an email to council members Tuesday, Henriquez outlined faculty input to this point. He said early discussions about DKU involved very few faculty members, but the eight-member Executive Committee of the Academic Council has since been an active participant in discussions involving potential academic programs. Additionally, administrators have visited the council several times to provide updates on DKU. He noted that many aspects, such as financial risk, remain uncertain, and he encouraged faculty members to stay informed and ask questions.

If the Chinese Ministry of Education approves plans for DKU, Academic Council will be charged with approving all academic programs to be offered there.

In an interview, Henriquez noted that administrators have done little to inform Arts and Sciences professors of the roles they will play when DKU opens in Fall 2012.

In fact, Arts and Sciences programs will not be offered in the early stages of DKU, Alvin Crumbliss, interim dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences, wrote in a Thursday email.

Faculty support DKU

Henriquez said faculty members in the Fuqua School of Business and the Duke Global Health Institute are more supportive of the venture because they know their disciplines will have a place on the new campus.

Mary Frances Luce, Fuqua associate dean for faculty affairs, said some faculty members raised concerns about the distribution of information, particularly in DKU’s early stages in 2009. Since then, however, many have participated in committees that are developing degree programs and conducting market research, she said.

“The faculty who are involved are because they want to support what [Provost Peter] Lange and [President Richard] Brodhead and Duke as a whole need,” Luce said.

Luce added that some faculty members were initially worried about DKU’s financial prospects until central administrators assumed responsibility for financial oversight.

Paul Zipkin, R. J. Reynolds professor in business administration at Fuqua, said individual schools should identify their responsibilities. He said many of the decisions being made by top administrators do not require faculty input because they affect Duke as a whole. When discussions have arisen that concern Fuqua in particular, such as plans for degree programs, Zipkin said professors have been able to participate.

“It’s not just Fuqua—it’s Duke that’s going to be over there,” Zipkin said. “[The administration] made decisions without discussing with the Fuqua faculty. Well, they don’t have to. It’s not the obligation of the president to discuss with [us].”

More discussion to come

Henriquez said he has seen the most enthusiasm for DKU from faculty members at DGHI because they have a good sense of what they will be doing in Kunshan.

Dr. Michael Merson, director of DGHI, wrote in an email Thursday that DGHI faculty have actively participated in planning and approving strategies for the new campus, and a number have even visited Kunshan.

“China is a country in transition and is thus an ideal place to conduct research on health disparities and to enable our faculty to make contributions to improving the health of the local population,” he said.

Henriquez said he hopes professors will take advantage of upcoming opportunities to become involved in discussions about DKU as the project moves forward.

“A lot of faculty just haven’t paid attention to the discussion [until recently],” Henriquez said. “The more faculty who can weigh in and talk about this and understand where the difficult issues are, the better for the project in the long run.”

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